Friday, 29 July 2011

Bridesmaids, Cars 2 and scintillating chemistry - Reviews #81



CINEMA: Bridesmaids (Paul Feig, 2011) is a fresh, funny and insightful look at middle-aged malaise, dressed up as a knockabout comedy. When unlucky-in-love Annie (Kristen Wiig, who co-scripted) finds her childhood pal Lillian (Maya Rudolph) is getting married, she’s delighted - if a little envious. But as she becomes engaged in a running war with Lillian’s infuriatingly perfect new best friend (Rose Byrne), Annie’s life proceeds to fall apart, with not even the attentions of thoughtful traffic cop Chris O’Dowd helping her to see sense. Like many comedies from the Judd Apatow stable - including Knocked Up, The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Superbad - Bridesmaids is a little unfocused and sentimental. But it’s also agreeably honest and very entertaining, with some spectacularly funny scenes. A gross-out sequence in a bridal shop toilets had the packed screening room shaking with laughter, though most of the highlights belong to Wiig: a meltdown on a plane, a row with a gobby teenager and a hysterical parade of car-related silliness. This is a terrific showcase for the actress, who handles the dramatic material well, spits out some cracking one-liners and displays a tremendous flair for visual comedy; the appealing centre of a very likeable film. (3)

***



CINEMA: Cars 2 3D (John Lasseter and Brad Lewis, 2011) - Pixar's latest is good fun, but conspicuously lacking the magic of their finest fare. A follow-up to the folksy-but-flashy 2005 film - the weakest of the studios’ 11 features, but a merchandising goldmine - this sequel is an international spy caper that throws rusty tow truck Mater (voiced amusingly by Larry the Cable Guy) centre-stage. It’s zippy, quite inventive and boasts some vivid visuals, including intoxicating recreations of Paris and the Italian Riviera. Michael Caine is a nice addition to the cast as a secret agent with a pencil moustache and an array of gadgets, John Turturro is a riot voicing on-track nemesis Francesco Bernoulli and there are bravura passages, including a super opening set-piece. But after that stunning run of WALL-E, Up and Toy Story 3, the film’s lack of an emotional punch is obvious and its moral of friendship and staying true to oneself appears too heavyhanded and mechanical. Perhaps the peculiar universe, populated only by vehicles, makes it hard to really engage. Improbably, DreamWorks’ newest offering - the superlative Kung Fu Panda 2 - leaves Pixar’s trailing in the dust. (2.5)

***



TV: Party Down (Season 1, 2009) is an incredibly funny comedy from those brilliant minds behind Veronica Mars, about a catering firm made up of frustrated actors who take on a series of diverse assignments, only for their personal lives to rather get in the way. It's inspired farce in the Steven Moffat vein - each episode building to an uproarious, often unexpected climax - shot in a handheld, faux-realistic style and blessed by Ken Marino's wonderful tragi-comic performance as team leader Ron and that scintillating Adam Scott-Lizzy Caplan chemistry. Mars fans will enjoy the host of guest appearances, including a naked Keith dive-bombing into a swimming pool, Logan Ecchols as a young conservative politico and Veronica herself playing a hard-ass boss from rival company Valhalla. Her "thank you" to Scott in that final episode is as lovely a piece of acting as you'll see all year. This whole series is just note-perfect, right down to its non-catchphrase: "Are we having fun yet?" (4)
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The reviews of Bridesmaids and Cars 2 3D were written by Rick Burin and appeared on Page 30 of the Harrogate Advertiser, July 29, 2011.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Half Nelson, oldsters and Paul Merton on Hollywood - Reviews #80



Half Nelson (Ryan Fleck, 2006) - Inner-city history teacher Ryan Gosling may be a crack addict, but "one thing doesn't make a man", as he tells the 13-year-old student (Shareeka Epps) who finds him lighting up and falling down in the school toilets. Half Nelson is a simply brilliant drama about loneliness, self-destruction and mutual reliance, boasting two of the most remarkable performances I've ever seen. As the hollow-eyed lost soul stumbling from one catastrophe to another, Gosling offers a method masterclass that blends quiet tragedy with wry black humour. Epps is the perfect antidote: completely naturalistic, straightforward and unschooled, as her damaged, impressionable teen reaches out for some hand to guide her and finds only a hopeless case and an unrepentant dealer (Anthony Mackie). The writing is intelligent, subtle and devoid of cliche, while Fleck's handheld camera creates some truly arresting imagery: Epps on her bicycle, winding her way through a city block; our protagonists glimpsing one another through a science park slide; and Gosling crouched, red-eyed in a doorway, as the film reaches its overpowering emotional climax. The best first viewing I've seen this year, and a shoo-in for my next all-time top 100. (4)

***



*SOME SPOILERS*
Make Way for Tomorrow (Leo McCarey, 1937)
- When Leo McCarey won the Best Director Oscar for 1937's The Awful Truth, he had some harsh words for the judges. Right filmmaker, he said. Wrong movie. And if The Awful Truth - also written by Viña Delmar - is the funniest film ever made, then McCarey's preferred movie is one of the saddest. Just ask Orson Welles. "It could make a stone cry," he said, which is, like, impossible. Victor Moore and queen of the character actresses Beulah Bondi play an old married couple whose house is taken by the Depression - and by the bank manager he stole her from all those years ago. Bondi goes to live with their eldest son (the impressive Thomas Mitchell, cast against type as not a drunk judge), while Moore moves in with intolerant, insecure daughter Cora (Elisabeth Risdon). All concerned find the age divide impossible to overcome. The first half of the film is pedestrian, stilted and not always enjoyable, but that's rather the point. Bondi and Moore are so used to one another's company, one another's rhythms and foibles, that with others she seems self-pitying and lacking in self-awareness, he closed-minded and possessing little faith in youth. It's only when they reunite that they make sense. There are many wonderful and timeless moments, a few scattered through the first hour (Bondi facing facts, a poignant letter and Mitchell's rueful line about being mighty proud), but most in that dazzling third act, as the couple's load is lightened - if just for an hour or two - by acts of kindness, before a gutting, brilliant ending. (We'll skirt over some decidedly dubious back-projection.) The leads are superb. Bondi, aged just 49 but playing 70, produces another memorable, nuanced, utterly human characterisation, while Moore - who elsewhere did just the one thing, playing affable and absent-minded in comedies like Swing Time, Louisiana Purchase and Star-Spangled Rhythm - shows that there's a great actor under all that strangle-voiced umming and aahing. In support, Fay Bainter is formidably cold, though Barbara Read is a bit one-note as the shallow granddaughter, while the severely-limited Minna Gombell does her patented "massive bitch" routine. There are very few films about oldsters, but this deeply moving humanist drama - semi-remade by Ozu as Tokyo Story - is kind of the last word. (4)

***


Those groundbreaking special effects.

Spider-Man 2 (Sam Raimi, 2004) - The first one is rubbish, but since Roger Ebert (the fella who reckons Hoop Dreams is the best film of the '90s and Ghost World is a cast-iron classic) said this sequel was the best comic book movie since 1978, I thought I'd give it a tumble. And I'm so glad I did. The fight scenes are still a bit jerky and cartoonish, there's too much slapstick in the early reels and Raimi's horror background can result in gimmickry, but the story is incredibly interesting - as Spidey (Tobey Maguire) struggles to juggle his responsibilities to family, friends and his public - with a real emotional pull. Maguire is unexpectedly excellent in the lead, both wide-eyed and world-weary, and the train sequence is an absolute wonder: bringing a lump to the throat as it comprehensively triumphs over the portentous paraphrasing of the same idea in The Dark Knight. Special mention also to the fire rescue, for its simple sentiment and the way that's undercut by the bleak pay-off. Alfred Molina is fairly weighty as villain Doc Ock (though he's been better elsewhere) - I like the way we can hear him before we see him, a sign of Raimi's horror roots working in his favour - and Kirsten Dunst is good in a role that requires her to play both ethereal and girl-next-door. Despite its flaws, a minor classic. (3.5)

***



Bells Are Ringing (Vincente Minnelli, 1960) represents the end of an era. This was the last film for MGM's musical producer Arthur Freed (the guy behind Singin' in the Rain, The Band Wagon and The Wizard of Oz), director Vincente Minnelli (responsible for masterpieces like Meet Me in St Louis) and star Judy Holliday - the greatest female comic of the Golden Age by a country mile. An adaptation of a Broadway show that ran for three years, it was her only colour movie (save the last scene of The Solid Gold Cadillac, more of which below) and her only musical. In a role written especially for her by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Holliday plays an operator at answering service Susanswerphone who tries to solve the problems of her many clients (including a boozy playwright, a short-tempered theatre director and a dentist-turned-songwriter), while falling in love and trying to avoid the government agents who're convinced she's a hooker. There's not much plot and nor is it developed by the songs - beyond articulating the characters' emotions or the atmosphere of falsity at a society party - but what there is is nicely handled. Similarly, while the hoofing isn't of the standard you'd get in a Fred and Ginger picture, or one of Freed's movies with Gene Kelly, the Jule Styne tunes (including The Party's Over and I'm Going Back) manage to be both complex and catchy, and they're performed with tremendous feeling. Indeed, the acting is far better, not to mention more central and more important, than in most MGM musicals. Since it's Judy. Yep, she's just brilliant again, leaning on that recognisable persona while doing something entirely new. Despite the familiar delivery, she's not playing dumb, just terribly sweet. There are two small moments that sum up what a special actress she was. With anyone else, the first would be a nothing line amidst much exuberant comic playing - in her hands it's perhaps my movie moment of the year so far. Her squeeze (Dean Martin) explains that he needs to greet (i.e. kiss) a number of pouty ladies from his past. In a moment of beguiling tenderness, understanding and encouragement, Judy just murmurs: "I know, s'alright". Later, she embarks on a spirited cha-cha-cha and, rather than break her stride, greets Martin by just mwah-mwah-mwahing him in time. Such moments of sensitivity, vulnerability and hilarity are offset by sequences highlighting her facial expressiveness and gift for mimicry. A couple of neat comic sequences ended up on the cutting room floor (the one in which she spins a tale of woe for investigator Dort Clark is a gem) and as co-scripter Green acknowledges, this outing could have been a bit more cinematic, but it's a lovely film regardless, with a simply wonderful performance at its centre. (3.5)

Trivia note: Look out for '30s and '40s crime and comedy regular George E. Stone (Runt in the Boston Blackie series), playing a blind bookie in the steamship number.

***



*SPOILERS*
The Solid Gold Cadillac (Richard Quine, 1956)
is a solid comedy celebrating the small shareholder and the self-made man. Judy Holliday is a minor investor at a major business who creates so much trouble at meetings that she's given an office, a secretary and a pretend job. When she finds out that the new heads of the business are total crooks, it's up to her to save the day, and the legacy of founder Paul Douglas. The material isn't Broadway legend George Kaufman's best - the stakes aren't that high and it's not that funny - but the film is lifted by Holliday's usual charm, charisma and comic smarts, playing both capitalist crusader and romantic matchmaker. Incredibly, her part was originated on stage by spherical character actress Josephine Hull. A couple of minor gripes: the final scene is in eye-popping colour, but it's dramatically and thematically incongruous and you can barely make out the actors, and while I'm aware that the film is essentially a fairytale, rudimentary calculation suggests Holliday would have had to stall the meeting for almost two weeks to make the climax possible. The Solid Gold Cadillac is a fun ride, but compared to other Holliday vehicles, it's more a [insert name of slightly above-average car] than a [insert name of very expensive car]. Sorry, I know nothing about cars. (3)

Trivia note: This was Holliday and Douglas' only film together, though they'd previously been teamed on stage in the production of Born Yesterday that made Judy's name. When it transferred to the screen, he was replaced by Broderick Crawford. A similar fate had befallen Crawford himself in 1939, when Of Mice and Men was made into a movie, only for Lon Chaney, Jr. to take on the role of Lenny, which Crawford had originated on Broadway.

***



"Monogamy!"
How Do You Know (James L. Brooks, 2010) - Dismissed on release, this romantic comedy-drama from Brooks - who makes features so rarely that each one feels like an event - is no classic, but it's sprightly and engaging, lit by three of the most appealing mainstream actors of recent decades. Reese Witherspoon is a pro softballer coming to terms with missing the national team cut, while trying to decide between perma-grinning ballplayer Owen Wilson and tender, trusting, slightly odd financier Paul Rudd, the subject of an FBI investigation. The characters' actions don't always make sense and Jack Nicholson (who has a wobbly, out-of-proportion body like a Pixar character) keeps taking big bites out of the scenery, but there are some nice ideas and one-liners, Rudd is terrific in his tricky part and Wilson is just hysterical. When he took to commentating on his own life, with asides like "Good phone call", I had to pause the film to catch my breath. With three lesser performers, this mightn't have added up to much - as it is, I enjoyed it a lot. (3)

***



The Big Bounce (George Armitage, 2004) - A laid-back, ramshackle adaptation of the Elmore Leonard novel, transplanted to Hawaii, with Owen Wilson as a small time housebreaker lured into a big play by the leggy, deeply annoying Sara Foster. There's virtually no plot, aside from an astonishingly dense five minutes of confusing exposition near the end, but Wilson is reliably amusing as he ambles towards disaster and Morgan Freeman has a nice supporting part as a pipe-smoking district judge. (2)

***


The film is precisely this funny.

My Father, the Hero (Steve Miner, 1994) - Witless comedy about an intensely annoying 14-year-old (Katherine Heigl) who tells a hunky guy at a beach resort that her oft-absent father (Gerard Depardieu) is actually her lover, and a career criminal. Depardieu gives his best, and there's a neat cameo at the close, but the potentially amusing premise is torpedoed by awful plotting that mixes idiotic slapstick sequences with tasteless jokes about prostitution and drug addiction - in what's supposedly a family film. And if you think a camera moving lecherously up a pubescent girl's legs is acceptable, then why not pick up a copy on your way to prison? (1.5)

***



*CONTAINS ONE NAUGHTY WORD. I'M WARNING, NOT BOASTING*
TV: Paul Merton's Birth of Hollywood (2011)
is a highly watchable series on early American film, but very much a personal journey - and a polemical one. If you're expecting a detailed history, you'll find it maddeningly incomplete and slim in scope. There's also the Griffith problem. The first episode deals with the roots of Hollywood, focusing on Thomas Edison and his bully boys, Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Birth of a Nation director D. W. Griffith. The second seeks to rescue the reputation of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, whose career was destroyed by scandal, while examining censorship and the elegant perversion of Cecil B. DeMille. The final instalment concerns itself with commerce-versus-art, profiling MGM's wunderkind producer Irving Thalberg and the egomaniacal, teutonic part-time ventriloquist Erich Von Stroheim, the chap who turned in an eight-hour film (1924's Greed). The series features a great range of clips. Many of the excerpts from features are in astonishingly good shape, considering they're almost a century old. There's Griffith in his acting debut (Rescued from an Eagle's Nest), examples of Mary Pickford's subtlety as a silent actress, and footage of the supposedly humourless von Stroheim smoking and drinking, while talking through a puppet. Merton and his researchers go as far as to match clips with fascinating contemporary spoofs, and serve up great little nuggets (both visual and otherwise) alongside the rehashed facts, including the blacklisted Arbuckle's split-second cameo in Buster Keaton's Go West. The snippets of behind-the-scenes footage are beyond great. The best of the lot is the only existing film of Chaplin directing: coaching his leading lady almost toe to toe, as she apes his mannerisms into the camera. Great stuff. These sequences are sometimes augmented by reconstructions, which can be effective, but are a little overused. The Arbuckle ones are genuinely eerie because of their nature, and the sequence showing "Griffith" behind the camera is worthwhile, but a reconstruction of Thalberg dying in a hospital bed is perhaps a bit much.

Where the series comes unstuck is in its construction and its spotty editorialising. Weirdly, it seeks to diminish the role of D. W. Griffith, the appalling bigot and pioneering visionary who effectively created the modern movie. It disingenuously ridicules selected scenes from his phenomenal one-two of The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance and says - in an offhand manner - that his reputation as a trendsetter is undeserved, as European filmmakers really made the innovations credited to him. That's not really borne out by the facts. John Ford, who based his directing style on Griffith's after working as an extra on the Klan-promoting Birth of a Nation, regarded him as the father of film. Chaplin called him "the teacher of us all". Orson Welles believed: "no art form owes so much to a single man". Yes, Griffith was arrogant, racist and grossly irresponsible, and it would be nice if the creators of cinema-as-we-know-it were progressive, tolerant sorts, but you can't dismiss his achievements on those grounds, and it's offensive to try. The idea that it was Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries that gave The Birth of a Nation its grandiosity and power is frankly utter bollocks and the facile illustration of that nothing point is laughable, pointless and doesn't actually work. Merton also heaps superlatives upon Mary Pickford, but declines to even mention the influential, incomparable Lillian Gish (an ally of Griffith), though she is shown, with our host taking the piss out of the film in the voiceover. She was, simply put, a genius.

Now, on to Merton. He's a talented chap, has done a lot to promote silent film and is an avuncular, passionate presenter. Here, his narration is accessible but fairly detailed, some of his observations about unconvincing props and lookalikes are funny (though there are perhaps too many gags at the expense of silent film, as if he's a little embarrassed by what he's doing) and it's fun to see him touring the studios, Ellis Island and still-standing locations from films like Greed. But he isn't a natural interviewer - appearing not to understand the purpose of such inserts - and his nodding shots are like a parody. These problems come to a head in the unilluminating chats with the ubiquitous Carla Laemmle (a B-movie actress in the '30s and the niece of Universal's production chief). On those grounds you could argue that the dearth of interviews is for the best, but the archive talking heads like King Vidor work nicely, and really we needed more. Without them, the series feels light on eyewitness testimony and insight.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed this: it was consistently entertaining, the rare footage was a treat and I appreciated the BBC, and Merton, devoting time and money to such an endeavour. But it seemed a bit short, a touch thin, a little hurried and a lot subjective. Will someone please put out Kevin Brownlow's near-mythic 15-part Hollywood series on DVD? Thank you. (3)

Friday, 15 July 2011

Rick's O2 Media Awards Adventure II: Return to the O2 Media Awards


Diss me gettin' stiffykert from faymus orfuh G. P. Taylor. And actually I have great hair, so shut up.

Being a hopelessly self-aggrandising sort, I indulged in yet more of my endless boasting the other day. The reason: I was off to the O2 Media Awards for Yorkshire and the Humber, having been shortlisted in the features and digital categories.

Well, last night was the ceremony, held in the picturesque surroundings of York Racecourse. The sun was setting and we sat on the balcony watching hot-air balloons taking off from the field below, like something out of Northern Lights.

I didn't win the awards - Martin Smith and Graham Walker of The Star, Sheffield took top honours - but I did get two nice certificates with the words 'highly commended' emblazoned across them. "Ever the bridesmaid," people say when they see me, but only because I giggle a lot and wear a dress.

The judges said:
Rick Burin of the Harrogate Advertiser impressed judges with a portfolio that also demonstrated his ability to appeal to readers across different mediums, from print to those who sourced their information on-line. This was someone with a deft touch, a writer with the skills to make you read on and be glad you did. (Feature Writer of the Year - Highly Commended)

Rick Burin is a journalist who knows how to write for a digital audience and is just as comfortable writing blogs and Tweets as he is at filing copy for his weekly paper. He brings some refreshing personality and irreverence to his online writing which he demonstrated well in his live General Election blog. (Digital Journalist of the Year - Highly Commended)
Good, eh? Unfortunately I got there much later than I did in 2010 and had to go a bit early to catch the last train from York to Harrogate (22:11 - thanks Northern Rail!), but what with the hot air balloons, free food and people saying nice things about me, it was a really fine evening.

PS: I did say I'd tell you what food there was. Pilau rice and stir-fry veg, with granary bread.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Love, Heathers and big blue heads - Reviews #79

I've spent much of the past few weeks with my eyes glued to wonderful, wonderful Veronica Mars. 'Seen a few films though, so here they are, beginning with a couple of my favourites back from when I was feckless and 15:



Il Postino (Michael Radford, 1994) is a sweet, low-key comedy-drama detailing the improbable friendship between famed Chilean poet Pablo Naruda (Philippe Noiret) and the simple Italian postman (Massimo Troisi) who wants his help romancing a girl. The pacing is a bit off and the film borrows too liberally from Cinema Paradiso, but the performances from Noiret and Troisi simply sparkle and the collision of genuinely funny character comedy and bleak, even tragic subject matter is wonderfully realised. (3.5)

***



*MINOR SPOILERS*
Heathers (Michael Lehmann, 1988)
- A couple of high school rebels dress up a series of murders as cultish suicides in this dark comedy. Perhaps you have to be sufficiently youthful to buy into it (I'm a carefree 27), perhaps I've been spoiled by Ghost World and Veronica Mars, or perhaps Daniel Waters' last word on teen flicks is just paling with age. Because Heathers isn't as sharp, spiky or amusing as I've thought on a half-dozen previous viewings. The gallery of extreme characters is there, there are some brilliant jokes ("Let's kick his ass!") and one-liners ("My teen angst bullshit has a body count"), and the soot-black premise is inherently snicker-some, but those virtues and a couple of strong lead performances from Winona Ryder and Christian Slater can't fully compensate for a confused viewpoint and a cop-out ending. Someone better go and tell the teenage me to shut up about it. (3)

***



Megamind (Tom McGrath, 2010) - A supervillain with a big blue head (voiced by Will Ferrell) accidentally kills his superhero arch-enemy (Brad Pitt) and finds that he's now massively bored. So he decides to create a new nemesis, turning immature news cameraman Hal (Jonah Hill) into the formidable Titan. DreamWorks' spin on the Despicable Me template is unexceptional but very diverting, with decent animation, good jokes and notably effective voicework from Ferrell and Hill. A very pleasant surprise. (3)

***



*I'VE QUOTED A RUDE WORD - PLEASE SKIP IF IT'S LIKELY TO OFFEND*
Separate Lies (Julian Fellowes, 2005) - A middle-class couple's picture-perfect marriage is torn apart by a mysterious death, in Fellowes' directorial debut. The story is too familiar (adapted from a 1951 novel), the dialogue is positively riddled with cliche (odd for Fellowes) and as the other man Rupert Everett gives what may be the most nondescript performance I've ever seen, but Tom Wilkinson and the incomparable Emily Watson are both extremely good, producing moments of emotional clarity and intimidating rawness amidst much tritely-scripted tedium. The moment in which Watson smashes a plate, screams and then bursts into tears is deeply affecting on an instinctive level and a scene where Wilkinson's stiff upper lip evaporates on account of some booze and he repeatedly barks "Fuck off" at his wife feels unexpectedly insightful. Terry Gilliam's Baron Munchausen, John Neville, also shines in a small part as Everett's father. The scripting of his second and final scene is so universal as to be almost banal, but his barnstorming sense of conviction lights it up. The subject matter of crime and guilt, the way in which the film abandons its thriller-ish concerns in deference to human drama and the presence of Wilkinson unfortunately recall Woody Allen's later Cassandra's Dream, though this is nothing like the career apocalypse that was. It's just a frustrating little film, loaded with overbearing symbolism (get a load of the Fellowes-does-Blue-Velvet opening), but partially rescued by a trio of impressive turns. (2)

Monday, 11 July 2011

Veronica Mars - Complete series review

A bit of telly for ya...

Yes, I stopped watching films for long enough to watch a TV series. I've tried to keep the *SPOILERS* to a minimum, but there are a few in there (including photos of the Season 2 and 3 line-ups), so if you haven't seen Veronica Mars, do that without any further hesitation, then clicky back on over here.



Veronica Mars - Season 1 (2004-5) - Aaaaaah... thump. That sound is my jaw dropping. What an utterly fantastic, incredibly engrossing, staggeringly entertaining series this is: a succession of superb mini-mysteries, wrapped up in one big series-long conspiracy. Veronica (Kristen Bell) was the golden girl of Neptune High. But when her best friend Lily Kane (Amanda Seyfried) was murdered, her sheriff father (Enrico Colantoni) became convinced Lily's internet age billionaire father was involved - setting Veronica against the wealthy in-crowd, including her boyfriend, Lily's brother Duncan (the disappointingly wooden Teddy Dunn). So our uber-cool outsider - and prospective PI like her pops - becomes a part-time hero-for-hire, dissing the deserved as she tangles with the Kanes, moneyed bad boy Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) and biker gang leader Weevil (Francis Capra). Series brains Rob Thomas creates a fully-rounded universe in which it's a sheer joy to lose oneself and the performances from Bell and Dohring are just spectacular. Their chemistry, and Bell's rapport with Colantoni, is magical. With the caveat that I'm more versed in celluloid matters than small-screen, this is one of the best things I've ever seen on TV. (4)

Best episodes: Pilot (#1), The Wrath of Con (#4) for the punchline, Weapons of Class Destruction (#18) for the kiss.

***



Veronica Mars - Season 2 (2005-6) - Somehow, this is every bit as good. No sooner has Veronica brushed the dirt from her clothes, changed boyfriends and got a job in a restaurant, than a school bus goes careering off a cliff and a former stuntman washes up dead with her name written on his hand, plunging her into a new mystery. The cases are still surprising, the character development is intelligent and the larger narrative is completely absorbing, while Bell, Dohring and Colantoni are reliably brilliant and each of the supporting players deftly drawn and given a distinct voice. Ryan Hansen, as the uncomplicated Dick Casablancas, is given greater prominence and is genuinely hilarious ("I'm not a smellologist," he memorably protests at one point), though his apparent behaviour in Season One does colour proceedings somewhat. His shy, put-upon brother Beaver (Kyle Gallner) also comes centre-stage, after sporadic appearances last series. Touching, laugh-out-loud funny and devilishly clever, this super sequel of a series is gloriously-written, flashily-shot and extremely well-acted, building to an unforgettable climax. (4)

Best episodes: Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner (#7) for Lamb's one moment of empathy, Never Mind the Buttocks (#19) for Weevil's return, Not Pictured (#22) for the Usual Suspects-style revelation of those two simple words.

***



Veronica Mars - Season 3 (2006-7) - They said it couldn't be done. And they were right. This third series can't quite touch the first two instalments. The main problem is that, obsessing over audience figures and kowtowing to boneheaded execs, the creators tinkered with the format, changed their original plot and were then deprived of a (richly-deserved) fourth season anyway. That said, the series is still phenomenally enjoyable, picking up after an uncertain start in which the college setting takes a little getting used to. The performances are largely stunning, the mysteries remain intriguing and tricky to second-guess, and the balancing of comedic and dramatic elements is as sure-footed as ever, while incorporating some neat nods to the crime genre, including vintage Bogie noir, Charlie Chan and Nancy Drew. The larger crimes this time involve a series of rapes (a narrative continued from Season 2) and a college murder, with a third, reportedly mind-bending plot dropped in case it deterred potential first-time viewers. While one can bemoan the shattering of the familiar ensemble, some repetitiveness in the on-off central romance, a few loose plot threads and a distinct lack of closure, this remains a compelling and invigorating third helping: 13 hours more in the company of these remarkable characters. There's a massive hole in my life where Veronica Mars has been this last couple of months. (3.5)

Best episodes: Spit & Eggs (#8), in which the knot in our communal stomach gets tighter and tighter, Postgame Mortem (#13), which is just really sweet and nicely played, The Bitch Is Back (#20), in which we say goodbye, and Logan gets the send-off he truly deserves.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Summer round-up 2011 - Part Two - Reviews #78


Get off the beach at once and go and watch some movies.

Since you've been so good this year (at least so far), here's the rest of the summer round-up, including a strongman, a midget, four clones and a mad scientist. They're all in the same film.

Elsewhere, I heap praise on DreamWorks' latest, go all gooey over a Steve Carell comedy-drama and quickly tire of Bulldog Drummond, the world's worst detective. He makes Inspector Clouseau look like Charlie Chan.

Actually, Neil Simon made Inspector Clouseau (or at least Peter Sellers) look like Charlie Chan. In Murder by Death. Not a good film, the wonderful Eileen Brennan aside.

Ready? I was born ready, myself...



CINEMA: Kung Fu Panda 2 3D (Jennifer Yuh Nelson, 2011) - This is a beast every bit as rare as a panda that can do kung fu: a superior sequel. A mix of heart, humour and action, the first outing raked in $600m at the box-office, so here’s a follow-up, helmed by first-time director Jennifer Yuh Nelson, who devised the original’s striking opening sequence. Po, voiced by Jack Black, is the Dragon Warrior - a kung fu master and perpetually hungry panda. When a villainous peacock (Gary Oldman) looks to wrestle control of his valley via a dock-off cannon, our hero is sent to face him down, accompanied by his trusted cohorts, the Furious Five. The first thing to say is that the film looks incredible, packed with sumptuous landscapes dominated by vast mountains, dappling rivers and towering pagodas. Its 3D is rarely used to fling props at the audience, but rather to provide depth to its vividly-realised world, allowing the viewer to wallow in that sheer opulence. Few modern movies have realised the possibilities of the big screen in such an assured, ambitious manner.

Perhaps even more importantly, the film boasts an engrossing, engaging and affecting story that’s never worthy or, ahem, po-faced, and reveals just why Po was raised by a goose. Its humour is rich, intelligent and unpretentious, epitomised by a terrific set-piece in which a ceremonial dragon filled with our brave warriors consumes and dispels a series of baddies; the most heightened display of toilet humour you’ll ever see. And the other action sequences are similarly superb: vastly superior to those in the first outing, with tremendous variety and imagination. There’s a fight to save a village that throbs with energy and invention, a breathless, hilarious rickshaw chase and a quietly destructive cannonball climax. Such wizardry is augmented by effective voicework, a lovely score from Hans Zimmer and John Powell, and an unashamedly sentimental punch-the-air slo-mo moment in which Po turns to his buddies and simply yells: “I love you guuuuuuuys!” Fast, funny and fleshing out its story with emotional wallops, Kung Fu Panda 2 is a total triumph - and knocks even its predecessor into a conical hat. (3.5)

Just to refresh your memory:



Kung Fu Panda (Mark Osborne and John Stevenson, 2008) - A rotund, clumsy panda (Jack Black), obsessed with martial arts, is selected to be the mythical Dragon Warrior, setting him on a collision course with a psychotic, power-hungry snow leopard (Ian MacShane) who's planning to lay waste to his valley and see off his former father figure, Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman). The film begins in striking fashion with a manga-ish dream sequence, stutters for a while, then judders back into life around the half-hour mark, courtesy of an intensely moving flashback. After that it never looks back. It isn't perfect, but it's a fun mix of gags, fight scenes and pathos with an impressive visual sense and a very strong second half. (3)

***



Dan in Real Life (Peter Hedges, 2007) – There’s a lovely feel to this offbeat picture, which mixes family comedy, human drama and broad farce to unexpectedly effective, affecting ends. Steve Carell is a newspaper columnist, widower and father-of-three who visits his parents for the holidays and falls for a girl (Juliette Binoche) in a bookstore – only realising later it’s his brother’s new love. As he struggles to contain his feelings, he awaits news of possible syndication and faces the slings and arrows of outrageous daughters, who want to drive, date boys or just have his attention for a moment. The jumble of elements gels surprisingly well, thanks to neat scriping, Carell’s excellent performance and a fine ensemble that includes John Mahoney and Dianne Wiest. It’s an extremely satisfying movie. (3.5)

***



The Cheyenne Social Club (Gene Kelly, 1970) – Cowboy Jimmy Stewart arrives in town to collect his inheritance and finds his brother has left him a brothel, in this very funny Western comedy. The picture’s a little stagy in its mid-section and there’s the odd joke that misses the mark (a couple just don't make any sense at all), but the story is involving and amusing, there are a dozen big laughs and the chemistry between Stewart and tactless, chatty pal Henry Fonda is a joy to behold, old pros and real life best buds that they are. Elements of tension, action and human drama are also incorporated quite elegantly. After all, what would a Western be without a gunfight or two? (3)

***



Give a Girl a Break (Stanley Donen, 1953) – Three girls compete for the chance to headline a Broadway show in this trim, straightforward MGM musical. The simple story is just something to be diverted from – and the frequent numbers are a treat, particularly two each pairing Marge and Gower Champion, and Debbie Reynolds and Bob Fosse. The latter pair made The Affairs of Dobie Gillis the same year, which is a minor classic. (3)

See also: Did I mention that I met Debbie Reynolds? Yes I did, several times. MGM had a plan to remake all of Fred and Ginger's films, starring Marge and Gower Champion. They only managed one, turning Roberta into Lovely to Look At.

***



Run, Fatboy, Run (David Schwimmer, 2007) works as far as it does - and that's a lot further than you might think - on the strength of Simon Pegg's performance. He's excellent as a hopeless schlub trying in vain to ingratiate himself with the heavily-pregnant fiancee he left at the altar five years ago. His solution: to tackle the marathon her new fella is about to take on. The plot is overly formulaic - though the race is cleverly conceived - the material variable and the product-placement excessive, but Pegg is a brilliant comic actor, wringing laughs out of almost every situation. (3)

***



Shallow Hal (Bobby and Peter Farrelly, 2001) is the ultimate in high-concept romcom shenanigans (yep, I said shenanigans), as superficial skirt-chaser Jack Black's perception of the laydeez (yep, I said laydeez) becomes based entirely on their inner self, causing him to fall heels-over-head for morbidly obese charity worker Gwyneth Paltrow, whom he sees as a slimline hottie. The film's a little confused in places, relying on fat jokes whilst peddling its "appearances aren't everything" message, but its heart is in the right place and it's frequently both sweet and funny. At least until the Farrellys indulge their old bodyshock fetish with all that stuff about a tail. The film's main virtue is Black's sparring with similarly misguided buddy Jason Alexander, which works really nicely. Alexander's timelessly juvenile one-liner may be my favourite of the year so far (I am really sorry): "You're right. l'm probably more immature than you, but at least l have a bigger willy." (3)

*I.e. a film based on a one-line premise; "high-concept" makes it sound clever and admirable, which it rarely is.

***



The City of Lost Children (Mark Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 1995) – A gaggle of misfits – a brain, a midget, four clones and a mad scientist – take to stealing children in order to experience the one thing their creator could never give them: dreams. On their trail is good-hearted, taciturn circus strongman One (Ron Perlman), who’s looking for the perpetually-hungry little brother they swiped from his caravan. The big guy is accompanied by Miette (Judith Vittet), a streetwise orphan who’s fallen in love with him. This fantasy is disjointed, muddled and almost self-consciously peculiar, but worth seeing for a knockout opening sequence, a couple of very special performances from Perlman and Vittet, and an astonishing visual sense. (2.5)

***



Catch-22 (Mike Nichols, 1970) – As an attempt to film an unimpeachable, untouchable, unfilmable book, it’s OK: a meeting of the sublime and the ridiculously useless in both scene and characterisation, with a passage of utter dullness to offset each sequence that works, and a lot of yelling to contrast with every bit of spot-on comic anguish. Alan Arkin is superb as Yossarian and Jon Voight makes a suitable Milo, but Martin Balsam is all kinds of shouty wrong as Col. Cathcart. (2.5)

***



Bulldog Drummond Escapes (James P. Hogan, 1937) – Lively entry in the comedy-adventure series, with a slightly manic Ray Milland (in his only appearance as Drummond) looking to rescue damsel in distress Heather Angel from beardy villain Porter Hall, who’s got the young heiress locked up and drugged. The plot’s nothing new and the staging can be a little static, but the young Milland’s eager, slightly over-ripe characterisation keeps proceedings buoyant and there’s fun support from series regulars Reginald Denny and E. E. Clive. Kudos also to the writers for creating a bolshy love interest who’s not averse to whacking someone over the head. Sometimes even the right person. (2.5)


A film so poor that even J. Carroll Naish is bad in it. He's still impressibly unidentifiable, though.

Bulldog Drummond Comes Back (Louis King, 1937) – The first Drummond entry starring John Howard starts off terrifically, with vengeful crooks swiping his girl and promising a series of riddles he must complete to save her life. Sadly they’re incredibly tedious and not even the great John Barrymore, whose role consists of trying on some fake noses and pretending to be Scottish, can save this one. (1.5)


You see how this isn't very good?

Bulldog Drummond’s Bride (James P. Hogan, 1939) – As a devotee of '30s and '40s mystery-comedies, I've been pretty unimpressed by this series, even while acknowledging that it's a serial-like affair placing the accent on adventure. This entry is poorly-written, with misguided comedy interludes and a one-note performance from Reginald Denny, while Drummond (John Howard) is a simply awful detective, boasting the sole virtue of persistence. (1.5)

See also: To see how this sort of thing is really done, check out the Michael Shayne series. The last film in the series was Time to Kill.

***



Shorts (Robert Rodriguez, 2009) looks like it was made by kids, as well as for kids, with plenty of elements that will appeal to the nine-year-old in your life, but a shaky grasp of narrative and a staggeringly misguided chapter about a giant, murderous bogie. Perhaps realising his story wasn’t up to scratch, Rodriguez split it into sections and shuffled them, so it’s essentially like Pulp Fiction, if Pulp Fiction was a disappointing film about a magic rock. There are crocodiles that run on their hind legs, tiny, destructive aliens and a contraption that makes the iPhone look like a calculator watch, but the lacklustre plotting, heavy-handed moralising and sometimes wooden acting mean it’s a bit of a letdown. The best gag, with the aliens and that much-maligned bogie, is saved for the credits. (2)

See also: Rodriguez used to make great kids' films, like Spy Kids and Spy Kids 2. I'm afraid he also made Spy Kids 3. He also makes kids for grown-ups. You can read about his Mexico Trilogy here.

***



Happy Feet (George Miller, Warren Coleman and Judy Morris - let's name and shame them, 2006) - It's as if March of the Penguins had been remade by Satan. This is an embarrassingly ill-conceived animation about a community of singing penguins and the travails of one plucky little member (his plumage like an evening suit, his face and voice reminiscent of Elijah Wood), who's tone deaf but can dance. The makers seem to have no concept of storytelling, the visuals are dull and undistinctive, and without wanting to sound like Mary Whitehouse (a sure sign that I'm about to), a lot of the material is just incredibly inappropriate for kids. Would you pay someone to stand in front of your beloved, toddling offspring and talk about booty and - well - sexing? Because I probably wouldn't. The Amigo Penguins are pretty funny and the first chase sequence is exciting, but the rest of this is just absolutely excruciating. (1.5)

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Summer round-up 2011 - Part One - Reviews #77

Like films? Like short reviews? Then you'll just about be able to stomach our customary summer round-up, presented here in two parts, as it's quite big. Last year's guide is here, he said tenuously.



CINEMA: X-Men: First Class (Matthew Vaughn, 2011)X-Men was good and X2 was phenomenal, but after the vile prank that was The Last Stand, I didn't even bother with 19th century-set prequel Wolverine. Now we've landed further forward in history, courtesy of the writer and director of Kick-Ass and original series director Bryan Singer, for a Cold War-era creation myth dealing with the formative experiences of Professor Xavier (James MacAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender). The former is an Oxford graduate, doing a dissertation on mutation and heading for the CIA. The latter is touring the globe in search of the Nazi (now something of a Commie-Nazi to use the McBain parlance), who shot his mum and unleashed his true potential. It's a superb set-up and the film benefits from two excellent central characterisations - backed by Jennifer Lawrence as Raven offering a Rogue-type subplot - but the second half is less impressive and interesting, culminating in an overlong, slightly boring action climax and several false endings. The principal henchman, Azazel, reminds me a little too much of the prankster Devil from Big Train. (3)

***



Winter's Bone (Debra Granik, 2010) - A teenage girl wanders around Missouri's Ozark Mountains asking people with pinched faces if they've seen her drug-cookin' dad, and they threaten to beat her up. Brilliant. (I should probably add that this incredibly low-key film has a rich, fascinating atmosphere, a striking visual sensibility and a stunning central performance from Jennifer Lawrence that culminates in the best silent screaming since The Spiral Staircase.) (4)

See also: An obvious touchstone is The Road: *SOME SPOILERS* greying beards, washed out colours and end-of-the-world bleakness giving way to faint hope. And then there's the other great Ozarks movie:



The Shepherd of the Hills (Henry Hathaway, 1941) is a genuinely remarkable drama with a heightened feel created by an extraordinary script, powerful performances and stunning direction from the erratic Hathaway. Harry Carey is the title figure, returning to his community having abandoned his wife and young child years before. His son (John Wayne), now all grown up, is hell-bent on revenge, believing it will rid his family of the "curse" that manifested in the death of his mother and the disability of his cousin. With all that plottin' and hatin', he can't imagine a future with the girl he loves, bare-footed Sammy (Betty Field). The film has a decidedly Fordian sensibility in its themes of family and redemption, its stylistics (long shots, doors used for framing, and even a scene at a graveyard filmed in the Ford fashion) and its use of his first (Carey) and most famous (Wayne) muses. But there's a feel, an atmosphere, a quality here that's entirely new, with staggering dialogue - both authentic and flavourful - in a language that's all its own and knockout performances from Carey and the incredible Field. Beulah Bondi, whose principal role is to poison Wayne's mind against his father, could play warm and good-hearted or worn and harsh with equal skill. She's just horrible here; really great, while in his first colour film, playing a complex, fascinating part, the underrated Wayne does another fine job. The film is full of wonderful touches, details and vignettes. It's meandering, unusual and distinctive. One of a kind. (4)

***



"That's right, but they never talk about that."
Barcelona (Whit Stillman, 1994) - Whit Stillman's follow-up to Metropolitan (comfortably one of my ten favourite films of all time) is a coruscating comedy-drama about love, anti-Americanism and fictional masochism, stuffed with glorious dialogue. Taylor Nichols is the sales director whose lonely existence in the Catalan capital is interrupted by incredibly sarcastic cousin Chris Eigeman, who keeps telling girls that Nichols is a keen follower of the Marquis de Sade, rather than the "bible-dancing goody goody" he really is. Meanwhile, a reprehensible lothario of a journalist lights a powder keg of anti-US sentiment... Despite only making three films (a fourth is finally on the way), Stillman is one of the best writer-directors America has ever produced, though I wish the deleted scenes on the DVD had been left in, adding further intrigue and excitement to the political subplot. (4)

See also: Stillman's last film to date was The Last Days of Disco, in 1998. There's a brief review in this round-up.

***



Ah, Wilderness! (Clarence Brown, 1935) is one of the best I've seen this year, an extremely moving, amusing adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's nostalgic play. Eric Linden is superb as a precocious, pretentious teenager whose stumbling forays into the fields of oration and love-making are observed by his kindly, concerned father (Lionel Barrymore, perhaps the most reliably wonderful performer of the Golden Age). Meanwhile, his uncle Sid (Wallace Beery) battles the booze, while trying to win back the woman he lost 15 years ago (Aline MacMahon). Moving seamlessly from comedy to drama - often within a single exchange - it's a timeless work, containing numerous telling sequences that receive rich treatment in MGM's Americana style, like Linden imagining his triumphant return to school, making up with his girl, or giving his father the assurance he desperately needs. Even the set-piece that doesn't work so well - a family dinner interrupted by a sozzled Sid - gets a gutting pay-off from a remorseful MacMahon. The self-satisfied, insecure protagonist was perhaps the template for Oliver Tate, the appalling, appealing centre of Richard Ayaode's recent Submarine. If you would like me to do my impression of Lionel Barrymore, that would be fine. "Young Dyoctor Kyildaaayur..." (4)

***



"Beat it, squirt!"
Three Men on a Horse (Mervyn LeRoy (uncredited), 1936) - I'm a big cheerleader for this ensemble comedy. In 2009, I wrote: "Sometimes all you want to do is laugh. And there are few films as purely, blissfully funny as this almost-forgotten 1936 gem, adapted from a big Broadway hit." That was from a blurb on the Harrogate Advertiser website, where I put this oft-overlooked film at #40 in an all-time top 100. In April this year, I included Frank McHugh's performance in my list of the 202 greatest performances in cinema. I can't help it, I just really like it. McHugh, the greatest character comic ever to walk the earth, plays a greetings card poet with an uncanny ability to pick the horses. He never bets - "it wouldn't be right, we can't afford it", he explains nonsensically - but gets it right every time. When he drunkenly stumbles into a cadre of gangsters led by Sam Levene (who transferred with the Broadway show and went on to appear in After the Thin Man and noir classics The Killers and Crossfire), they spot the chance to make a killing - if they can just keep their golden goose happy. McHugh had a wonderfully absent delivery, coupled to a sometimes impish sense of fun, and both virtues are to the fore here, as he childishly taunts his brother-in-law, repeatedly forgets that he's supposed to be helping out the hoods and accidentally seduces the ringleader's moll (the wonderful Joan Blondell). There are dozens of laughs, often in the most surprising places ("Remember what the parole officer said: no more homicides," stooge and embryonic Pesci, Teddy Hart, tells Levene), and the denouement is particularly agreeable. If you like classic Hollywood comedy, you simply have to get hold of a copy. It's only available on NTSC VHS, though, I'm afraid. (4)

***



Despicable Me (Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, 2010) – Supervillain Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) adopts three little girls as part of a dastardly scheme to shrink the moon, only to find they have a mellowing effect. A fantastic first half gives way to a slightly less furious second, but this is still a super animated effort, with smart plotting, excellent characters (hurrah for the Minions... even if they are somewhat similar to Toy Story's aliens) and a host of genuinely brilliant gags. The sight of Gru and his sidekicks sitting forlornly on their tiny, shrunken plane will be one of the enduring film memories of this year. (3.5)

See also: The DVD features three Minion shorts: Home Makeover (Kyle Balda and Samuel Tourneux, 2010, 3), in which the girls prettify Gru's home, Orientation Day (3.5), where newly-recruited Minions are introduced to their responsibilities, and Banana (3.5), in which the little yeller fellas squabble over some fruit.

***



Teacher's Pet (George Seaton, 1958) is a romantic comedy on an interesting theme: real-world experience versus higher education. Clark Gable is the appallingly chauvinistic city editor (only some of his myriad flaws evident to the writers) who enlists in a journalism course to mock pert blonde teacher Doris Day, only to fall for her - and her message. It's quite well-written and played, with a strong presentation of newsroom life (it's not much like a Harrogate weekly in 2011) and a notable supporting turn from Gig Young as Day's sure-sighted intellectual collaborator. (3)

***



Mr. Jealousy (Noah Baumbach, 1997) – Substitute teacher Eric Stoltz starts a relationship with art gallery tour guide Annabella Sciorra, but is swallowed up by the green-eyed monster, becoming increasingly jealous of her past lovers - and then himself. This singularly unpromising premise is quite well-developed, with excellent turns from Carlos Jacott as Stoltz's complex pal and Chris Eigeman playing his arch nemesis, celebrated writer Dashiell Frank. The scenes in group therapy are very funny and a long-promised unmasking is hysterical, though the film still has some dull stretches and an extended ending that seems tacked-on. It's worth a look, but not in the same league as Baumbach's Kicking and Screaming. Or The Squid and the Whale, for that matter. (2.5)

***



Lady Be Good (Norman Z. McLeod, 1941) is the only musical I've seen with a framing sequence set in a divorce court*. The story about bickering married couple Ann Sothern and Robert Young isn't great (added to which, he's an absolute idiot) and the early numbers just consist of them singing round a piano, but the musical interludes get better and better as the film progresses, with the acrobatic African-American trio the Berry Brothers making a couple of appearances (they were rivals to the extraordinary Nicholas Brothers and engaged in a famous dance-off in 1938) and tap queen Eleanor Powell performing two routines. The first is a neat dance with a dog, but the second - with her in a glittery suit, hoofing to Gershwin's Fascinating Rhythm - is nothing short of astonishing. It was devised by Busby Berkeley, as you might expect, and is filmed in a palette of which silvery cinematographer Gregg Toland would have been proud. To see how it was staged and shot, check out That's Entertainment! III. Red Skelton's impression of Chinese people is a little bit racist. (2.5)

*Though Dancer in the Dark ventures into the criminal court.

***



Sylvia Scarlett (George Cukor, 1935) - Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant made four films together. This is the other one, made a full three years before the commencement of that unmissable run incorporating Holiday, Bringing Up Baby and The Philadelphia Story. Before Grant debuted the persona that would define an entire era of America movie-making, in The Awful Truth. Here, Cary's a Cockney con man, Kate's a motherless waif posing as a boy and Brian Aherne is an artist of unclear morality, trying to give her a life lesson or two. The plotting is all over the shop, beginning with a parade of over-emoting that plays like a parody and recalls the worst excesses of silent melodrama, then going from knockabout comedy to improbable tragedy and back again in the blink of an eye. Several times. But it's rarely dull, Hepburn is mostly very good and the ending is nicely realised. (2.5)

***



Knight and Day (James Mangold, 2010) is a great trailer in search of a decent film. I've finally gotten around to seeing it and I still feel like I haven't. It's OK froth, beginning well with tongue firmly in cheek, but soon going awry in its gently incoherent, globe-trotting way. Tom Cruise is good fun in his ambiguous role; Cameron Diaz can't do comedy, drama, or anything else really, and looks weird and melted. (2.5)

***



Never Wave at a WAC (Norman Z. McLeod, 1953) - Pathetic addition to the "in the Army now" comedy ranks, with Rosalind Russell going from hideous socialite to hideous private. The story and script are unbearable and Russell - one of the most revered comediennes in the history of the movies, and of course His Girl Friday's Hildy Johnson - is just dreadful. The only bright spots come from Marie Wilson, doing her usual dumb blonde schtick. Bizarrely, this mess was directed by genre veteran McLeod, who was no stranger to manic masterpieces, having helmed the Marx Bros' 1932 classic Horse Feathers. (1.5)